TEHRAN – Iran is ready to resume talks with world powers on its nuclear program and awaits word from the European Union on timing and details, Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator said on Thursday.
Ali Baqeri, in an interview with Reuters in Geneva on the sidelines of a meeting on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), said Iran needed 20 percent-enriched uranium for its Tehran research reactor and four others being built, and was continuing to convert some of its stockpile into reactor fuel.
“We are waiting for Lady Ashton to call Dr. Jalili, and Dr. Jalili is obviously ready to take the call,” Baqeri said.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton oversees diplomatic contacts with Iran on behalf of the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany. Saeed Jalili is Iran’s chief negotiator.
“We are waiting to see whether Lady Ashton’s response is going to cover the time and venue of another round of negotiations, or… she (will) limit her response to just discussing the substantive side of things,” Baqeri said.
In Brussels, a spokesman for Ashton said she had consulted with foreign ministers on how to move forward the process. “Arrangements for a phone call with Dr. Jalili have already been made in order to discuss next steps,” Michael Mann said.
The six powers and Iran failed in talks in the Kazakh city of Almaty this month to end the deadlock in a decade-old dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.
At those talks, the six asked Iran to suspend its higher-grade uranium enrichment work in return for modest relief from international sanctions, an offer Tehran did not accept.
Iran’s presidential election is set for June 14, leading to speculation on whether the next round of talks will take place before the poll. “We are ready to continue with the talks… We have no limits as far as time is concerned,” Baqeri said.
Iran says its nuclear work is entirely peaceful and that it is only refining uranium to power a planned network of nuclear energy plants and for medical purposes. Critics accuse it of covertly seeking the means to produce nuclear weapons.
Baqeri , referring to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said, “I need to point out the Islamic Republic of Iran uranium enrichment activities to the level of 20 percent are under strict agency monitoring. Obviously activities that are being monitored by the agency are no cause for concern.”
An IAEA report in February said Iran had in December resumed converting to oxide powder some of the uranium it has enriched to 20 percent fissile concentration, for the production of reactor fuel.
That helped restrain the growth of Iran’s higher-grade uranium stockpile, a development that could buy more time for diplomacy.
In a potentially encouraging sign for the powers, Baqeri said on Thursday this conversion was continuing.
“We produce 20 percent uranium to provide fuel for Tehran’s research reactor, also four other reactors in four different parts of Iran which are under construction. With this in mind, plans have been drawn up to convert 20 percent uranium to 20 percent oxide,” Baqeri said.
“This is very much going according to plan. This activity is ongoing,” he added.
The IAEA said on Tuesday it would hold a meeting with Iran on May 15 aimed at reaching a deal for further investigation into Iran’s nuclear activities, the 10th round of talks since early 2012.
Baqeri said Iran was already cooperating fully with the IAEA but was willing to discuss requests “which go beyond our obligations” under the NPT.
“We are very much hoping in this round of talks between my country and the agency, we no longer have such meddling and sabotaging of talks,” he said.
“Experience tells us that usually certain Western parties, including the U.S., whenever we are close to striking a bargain, reaching an agreement, they interfere.”
The IAEA-Iran talks are separate from, but have an important bearing on, the negotiations between Tehran and the P5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany).
“Once we reach an agreement with the agency, we also expect the (six powers), because of such cooperation with the agency which goes well beyond our obligations, to lift a number of sanctions. Unilateral sanctions which are illegal,” Baqeri said.
Iran ready to resolve nuclear issue in a single phase
In addition, in a meeting with representatives of NAM member states in Geneva on Thursday, Baqeri called on world powers to “show seriousness” in nuclear talks with Iran, saying Tehran had adopted a “logical” and “constructive” approach.
Iran assumed the rotating presidency of NAM for a three-year term on August 30, 2012.
Iran’s deputy chief nuclear negotiator said that the six major powers had three options regarding the nuclear dispute, noting, “Firstly, the settlement of the issue in one phase in regard to which the Islamic Republic of Iran has announced its readiness to take this path until a positive result is obtained.”
“Secondly, the step-by-step resolution of the issue through taking a number of preliminary mutual steps which are… of equal weight and are taken simultaneously by both sides,” he added, saying that the third option was rejecting the proposals offered in nuclear talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on February 26 and 27.
According to the New York Times, in February talks, the major powers dropped their demand that Iran shut down its underground uranium-enrichment plant at Fordo, where it enriches uranium to 20 percent, and insisted instead that Iran suspend enrichment work there and agree to unspecified conditions that would make it hard to quickly resume production. They also said that Iran could continue to keep a small amount of uranium enriched to 20 percent for use in a research reactor that produces medical isotopes.
If Tehran agreed to these steps, the major powers said they would suspend some sanctions against Iran, including trade in gold and petrochemicals, and would not impose new sanctions through the United Nations Security Council and the European Union. The main oil and financial sanctions would not be loosened.
Iran’s main demand is that its right to uranium enrichment, as stipulated in the NPT, be recognized.
The latest round of talks between Tehran and world powers was held on April 5 and 6. No agreement has been made yet about a new round of talks. (Agencies)